Blood sucking lice are common ectoparasites (parasites that infest the outside of the body) of wild rodents. Also called pediculus, these types of parasites are relatively uncommon in pet rats and are sometimes acquired when a domestic rat comes into contact with a wild rodent.
You can suspect a lice infestation if your rat is scratching much more than usual. Apart from causing uneasiness and irritation to the rat, lice infestation can also lead to enough loss of blood that a condition of anemia can develop. Left untreated, anemia can lead to death.
Lice infestation of rats is not zoonotic in nature, since the type of louse that infects rats is specific to rodents. Human handlers of infested rats are at no risk of becoming infested with lice.
Pet rats are known to acquire lice mainly through contact with wild rodents. This typically occurs when a wild rodent is able to come into close enough contact with your pet rat that the lice are able to cross over to your pet rat’s body or to its living environment (such as bedding, litter).
Lice infestation can be diagnosed by identification of the adult lice or the presence of eggs on the rat’s skin and hair. Clinical symptoms that are observed may give a general indication of the severity of the problem at hand. If your veterinarian suspects anemia, a complete blood count will show if your rat is suffering from a decreased red blood cell count.
A type of insect, parasitic in nature
Small, wingless insects that live as parasites on humans and some animals
To attack something or take it over, as in the way ticks can infest a dog
A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.